Virginia Tech team creates 3-D printed prosthetic hand for Salem girl with birth defect

Published: May. 30, 2017 at 9:38 PM EDT
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A Salem girl received life-changing help from Virginia Tech this month after a birth defect left her without the use of a hand. The new way of doing the work could revolutionize prosthetic limbs.

Twelve-year old Josie Fraticelli suffered Amniotic Banding Syndrome before she was born. That means a band in the uterus wrapped around her hand and cut off blood flow before it could grow.

So she has a wrist and palm, but almost no fingers. Living life without a right hand was a challenge at first for Josie, but she never let it keep her down.

"It doesn't stop me from doing things. Even if it does stop me, I'll try it. I don't say 'Oh I can't do that, I'm not going to try," Josie said.

The only real issue was one she couldn't control.

"Kids will call it a foot, like a baby foot, and kids will make fun of me on the bus sometimes," Josie said.

Her parents never knew this happened before she was born, despite a 3-D ultrasound. So they immediately started doing research.

"In 2013 I had found some information online about the ability to manufacture a prosthetic. There's apparently a network of different individuals that will produce these types of things using a 3-D printer," Josie's father, Tom Fraticelli, said.

But no one locally does this.

So Josie's mother, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, turned what her husband found over to a colleague.

Blake Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. He does a lot of work with 3-D Printing.

"Even though it wasn't a direct area of our research, we had all of the manufacturing capabilities and research expertise and understanding to be able to make these type of devices," Johnson said.

So using Internet downloads, and a design of Josie's left hand, Johnson and a team of undergrads made a 3-D prosthetic hand.

"It all starts with this digital model and then the 3-D printer builds something up layer by layer into the final device that looks like the digital model," Johnson said.

Now Josie can pour soda into a cup, something she was excited about.

"I also like doing fist bumps," Josie said.

She also gives feedback to the Virginia Tech team who make changes and new prototypes based on her input.

"One of the things that I've always noticed is she's always willing to get right in there and do it," Tom Fraticelli said.

With that help there's a good future for this work and people with similar defects. Especially since the printers cost less than $1,000 and the plastic is between $20 and $30.

"Ultimately where this will take place In 15-20 years will be right in the home facilitated by the parents and the child interacting together," Johnson said. "Maybe as the child gets older, they'll take the lead and completely design their own prosthetics at home in their own bedrooms."

"It's cool to be an influence for other kids and to be a part of the beginning of things like this," Josie said.

Next up for Josie, her family, and Johnson is more changes and prototypes. That would even include changing the color of the hand to whatever she likes.

Josie said it would be a teal blue color, or maybe having each finger be a different color.